Chairside Manner Matters More to Patients Than Clinical Skill

Dentistry Today


While dentists may prioritize their clinical skill, patients care much more about how dentists make them feel, according to fourth-year dental student Hannah Klaassen of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics.

Klassen began her study during her first year of dental school as part of its Dental Student Research Program, which provides opportunities for students to learn about and conduct cutting-edge research in the oral sciences.

The College of Dentistry had been consistently collecting open-ended patient feedback after visits, and Klaassen used these responses as the basis for her study.

“Taking patient feedback in their own words is helpful for identifying what patients notice and what aspects of patient care are positive and what isn’t,” Klaassen said.

After reading through the comments, Klaassen developed a coding system that allowed her to group and classify similar kinds of responses. In particular, Klaassen noted that patients are particularly interested in:

  • The emotional care they felt at an appointment
  • The personal connections they made with staff
  • Clear communication of expectations
  • Clarity of communication between provider and patient across the various departments and front desk teams at the College of Dentistry

“Communication is what makes or breaks the patient experience, and all other central areas of concern were intertwined and related to that. Patients care less about technical skills and more about how we make them feel,” Klaassen explained.

In October 2019, Klaassen presented her research at a Noon Presentation offered to the entire college, which associate dean of clinics Dr. Mike Kanellis called “very interesting and timely.”

Klaassen’s experience as a student research has been formative for her. She initially started conducting research because she was interested in specializing after dental school, and she didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on her.

“This research has given me an outsider and patient perspective on dentistry that I wouldn’t have known, and that’s invaluable,” Klaassen said. “I hope to continue incorporating that into my own practice going forward and analyzing patient feedback in private practices. I think there is a lot we can learn from our patients.”

More broadly, the focus on research at Iowa has made a big difference for Klaassen too. She “100%” recommends that students get involved in the Student Research Program.

“I’m much more critical now, and I just don’t accept things at face value. The curriculum at Iowa on critical thinking and research is good, but my research experience in the Student Research Program complements it very well,” she said. “You don’t understand how much it will impact you.”

Klaassen also said that having Dr. Leonardo Marchini as a mentor was one of the biggest impacts on her.

“There are a hundred different ways that he helped me. He gave me the skills for conducting research and publishing it, but he also gives me great advice about patients and applying research to particular cases, especially during third-year rotations and treatment planning,” she said.

Klaassen now is working on another research project examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected dental student stress levels.

The study, “Patient Satisfaction with Dental Treatment at a University Dental Clinic: A Qualitative Analysis,” was published by the Journal of Dental Education.

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